The Letters

Sleep

I am going to share with you an embarrassing moment with you.  Actually, this has happened to me a handful of times. At bedtime, while reading to my kids, drowsiness simply overpowered my consciousness and I fell asleep. Literally, in mid-sentence, my eyes closed, and my mouth stopped talking and I drifted into a sleep state.  I can remember when I was a child, my family and me poking fun at my grandmother for her ability to fall asleep sitting up straight while watching TV. And now, long before I am a grandparent, I find myself being the object of a similar joke. I also remember, while I was driving late at night when I was about 17, falling asleep for enough time to drift off the road, waking up in time to violently swerve back onto the road. This is not narcolepsy, which is a disorder that causes one to suddenly fall asleep at seemingly random times; this is simply pure fatigue. When we don’t get enough sleep, our mind takes control of the situation and shuts down, attempting to get the rest it needs.

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)

I think of this account often and tend to easily find sympathy for the disciples. Often, I will read a story in the scripture of some admonishment or a bad example, and I’ll say to myself, “wow, how could they be so stupid? I would never do that!” But, in this case, I can totally empathize, and I dread the possibility that Messiah might ask me to stay awake for Him. To some extent, our conscious effort can over-ride the brain’s need for sleep and we can stay awake and continue to function. But, both short-term and long-term sleep deprivation is a dangerous thing and is harmful to our health. Our bodies were designed to sleep about a third of our time alive.  Science has studied this biological need for decades but we are still asking many questions about it. As is the case with most of creation, every time we learn one thing, we also learn that there are two more things we don’t know!

Scientists have known for a long time that during sleep, the brain is very active. But they have fairly recently discovered that during sleep, the space between the neurons in the brain increases and allows the fluid in the brain to flow through.  This flow is how the brain flushes out the waste produced by the cells, which is toxic. If this process is shortened repeatedly (by not getting enough sleep,) then the toxins build up in our brain. The theory is, that this build-up could be the cause of dementia and other similar diseases. And I wasn’t surprised to also learn that due to our culture of productivity, profit, and busyness, ideas are being explored to work around this natural mechanism and “hack the system.” Rather than teaching that we need more sleep, (much like how we were taught that smoking is bad) there seems to be a lot of effort spent toward figuring out a way to flush those toxins faster, with less sleep, so that we can be more productive. There is one more example of mankind deviating from God’s intent.

I am so impressed with God’s innovative creation… When we sleep, we find a safe and comfortable place to do it.  Have you ever seen fish sleep in an aquarium? The only movement you can see in a sleeping fish is in their gills, to provide them with oxygen.  But whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals need to breathe air. They are not able to find a safe and comfortable place to sleep. So, they take turns sleeping! Actually, their brain takes turns sleeping. They use something called “unihemispheric slow-wave sleep.” Their brains are split into halves, just like ours, but their halves are near copies of one another.  They use one half of their brain to swim around and breathe while the other half sleeps! Fun fact.

I mentioned that our conscious effort can somewhat override the need for sleep. And sometimes an override can come from external forces.  If someone was in a dangerous situation, like a war zone, I think it is safe to imagine that their brain would stay awake. But with our God, our faith in His Way, and His love for us, we can literally rest in any situation.  Wait, surely God would not allow us to sleep peacefully when our life is in danger. That’s preposterous. Or is it?

Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:36-40)

When we sleep, we are most vulnerable. Look at what happened to Samson (Judges16,) or what could have happened to Saul, were David not so righteous concerning God’s ordination (1Samuel26.) This is why we humans station a night watch, so others can sleep safely. Well, Messiah, the man, was no different. He was most vulnerable on that cushion, subject to perilous drowning. He was able to sleep through such danger because he had a “night watchman” looking out for Him.  His father (same as mine and yours, by the way…) is a sleepless watchman.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; The LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The LORD will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever. (Psalms 121)

I have to wonder about the origin of our need for sleep. Adam slept when God took his rib out to make Eve (talk about being vulnerable!) Sleep is not really mentioned again until after the flood. Around that time, God seems to have changed a lot of things – He shortened man’s life to 120 yrs. (Gen 6) and in Gen9:12, He added the rainbow (changing physics?)  Noah gets drunk and sleeps. (Gen9:21) Could it be that in Eden, or before the flood, humans did not need to sleep? Here is why I ask this:

And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; (Revelation 21:23-25)

When God returns, He will restore things from this broken world to the way He intended them to be, and this description of the new Jerusalem is a picture of that. If the new Kingdom has no night, will we have no sleep? Surely, the physical need for sleep, (flushing our brains, etc.) will go away. But I also think that our need for cycles will go away as well.  The cycle of light and dark sometimes resembles my cycle of committing sin and repenting, of seeking the praise of men and the praise of God, of following my own heart and the heart of God… etc.  I sincerely hope that the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21) is the elimination of these cycles and that we can enter into His rest permanently!

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)           

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Vessels

The Container Store is a national chain of retail outlets founded and headquartered in Dallas, TX. It is a department store where all the departments are full of things that hold, organize, and contain your stuff. Our society sustains this $800 million enterprise that focuses on storing and organizing the things we buy and own, as well as a $38 billion self-storage industry that allows us to keep the stuff we buy that we don’t have room for in our homes. Materialism and the acquisition of things would be a great topic for discussion for some other day. I think it is funny that the name “Container Store” is somewhat redundant; by definition, you store stuff in a container.  The word vessel comes from the Latin “vas” and is also the root of our word “vase.” It means just what we think that it means – a thing that carries or holds or stores some other thing. A cargo ship, an artery, and a cooking pot are all vessels. And, surely in the context of this letter, the concept that your body is a vessel that can be filled should bring to mind a scripture:

Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:19-21)

This scripture goes on to give us all some really good advice (no surprise there…) so you will certainly benefit if you read the whole chapter. We know that cargo ships are supposed to hold cargo, arteries are meant to hold blood, and cooking pots hold food; it seems from the scripture that our bodies should hold honor. These containers, however, don’t need to hold what they are meant for.  You could fill a cargo ship with seawater. Or you could fill arteries with chocolate pudding.  And as the scripture says, you can fill your body with dishonor. Things are simply better when vessels are filled with what they were meant for.

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is wasteful, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; (Eph 5:18-20)

Once again, I encourage you to read the whole chapter. Verse 18 goes so well with the others surrounding it. If my “self” is full of God’s spirit, is there room for anything else? Well, yes, I think so. I can fill my “self” with love. “Self” is a word I put in place of “vessel.” I originally used the word “body,” but changed it for “self.” The word “body” seemed so physical, so limited, so constrained by Newtonian physics… “Self” has a much more metaphysical / spiritual connotation. Newtonian physics gives us the law “no two things can occupy the same space at the same time.” Newtonian physics need not apply to the truths of God.

Speaking of physics, I’m reminded of the saying, “nature abhors a vacuum.” This refers to the idea that, on earth under our atmosphere, if you take everything out of a space, including the air, (creating a vacuum) something (usually air) will race to fill it in, and it is really difficult to prevent that from happening. Here’s a case where a void is filled with something other than air…

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. “Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. “Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

So, we need to make sure that we don’t fill our “self” with the wrong thing, but we also need to be sure that we don’t leave it empty! In Ephesians 5:18, Paul tells us to be filled with the Spirit. How? Here is one hint: there’s a parallelish verse in Colossians that seems to equate the Word with the Spirit…

Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16)

This connection should come as no surprise, given the well-known intro to John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (John 1:1-3)

So, does this mean that we can claim some protection against our vessel being filled with the wrong thing by simply reading God’s Word? What do you think?

Here is a question to ponder: What is more valuable, the container or the contents? Yes, of course it depends. The golden chalice that Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple is probably more important than Belshazzar’s wine. But, a plastic bucket filled with rubies and diamonds… You get the picture. What about the vessel that is my “self,“ filled with God’s Spirit? God’s Spirit that fills me might easily be the most valuable thing I could possibly conceive. But then, God so loved me that He sacrificed His only Son so that I might live. That makes me pretty valuable, right? Maybe that is just a silly question without an answer.  Let’s move on.

In that scripture from 2Tim, notice the “firm foundation of God.” This point ties in nicely with a familiar verse:

For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11)

The foundation is not the container, or vessel, but it supports the vessel. The sea supports the cargo ship, the stove supports the pot, my flesh supports my arteries, and our Messiah supports us.

What happens when you try to put 10 pounds of stuff into a 5-pound bag? Well, once again we are faced with the questions: what is the intended purpose of the bag and the stuff we’re trying to contain? And, what are the circumstances? Can we be filled to overflowing with God’s Spirit? Yup, and here’s what happens:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalms 23:5-6)

Overflowing with God’s goodness and lovingkindness sounds pretty good, but sometimes full is all we get. I will gladly accept “merely” God’s fullness. That sounds pretty awesome, too.

When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not one vessel more.” And the oil stopped. (2 Kings 4:6)

I cannot help thinking of a list of containers found in the Bible and wondering about them… The water jars that held the wine in Cana, Elijah’s meal in a barrel and oil in a cruse, the jars of the 12 virgins, the baskets used to collect the left over loaves and fish, old versus new wineskins, Jeremiah’s muddy cistern, the rich fool’s bigger barns, whitewashed sepulchers, the basket that carried the infant Moses, the alabaster jar of nard, Noah’s ark, The Ark of the Covenant… hundreds of vessels to consider. Fill yours with His Spirit and love.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)                    

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Resentment

I remember when I was a child in grade school, not having grown up in or been involved with any church, I heard that “God is everywhere all the time.”  This was such a strange concept to me, that I can still remember; on one sunny day, some girl told that to me on the playground at school.  Today, I still ponder the concept of God being infinite in nature. I will return to this idea later.

For now, I’d like to start off with the 10 Commandments – Exodus 20:1-17. If you have a minute now, you should read the whole thing. But I am going to focus on v.17:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17)

Notice that the command does not say: “You shall not covet your neighbor because of the love he has for God and people, nor shall you covet the love he receives from them.” Obviously, that is not part of the Commandments – God did not write that. But, is it ok to covet someone else’s love? Covet is intrinsically a bad word – it requires some level of resentment toward the person who has the thing being coveted. I think it is accurate and correct that often people write the 10th Commandment as simply “Do not Covet.” Covet contains resent.

I think we can all agree resentment is bad. We are regularly encouraged and instructed in scripture to lift each other up. How can we do that when we see that our neighbor has something that we want or feel that we need – even if that something is good and righteous?

Let’s say I notice someone in my life whom is greatly blessed. This person is clearly well loved by God and others around them and they are “really good” at loving God and others around them. When I notice that someone is exhibiting human traits that I feel are better than mine, I have two responsibilities. The first is to not covet (it is a Commandment, right?) and the second is to lift that person up; in a sense, the opposite of resentment… Here are a few of the many scriptures that say this:

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (1Thes 5:11)

So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. (Rom 14:19)

And my favorite:

…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, (Heb 10:24)

By communicating to them that I noticed the good thing they do and how great it is, I empower them and encourage them and to some extent validate them.  This is one way to show love. It is also not an easy thing to do, as it takes humility.

Those are my two responsibilities, “don’t covet, instead encourage.” But there is also a third thing that I will definitely want to do for my own benefit. Can you guess what that third thing is? Here is a hint:

“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother named him Jabez saying, “Because I bore him with pain.” Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him what he requested.” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)

I have been talking about coveting here and I have emphasized that coveting anything is a bad idea. Do you agree? But, let’s go back to my parody of Exodus 20:17. “You shall not covet anyone’s house; you shall not covet anyone’s wife (or husband,) you shall not covet their male or female servant, you shall not covet the love that they have for their neighbor or the love that they receive from their neighbor or anything that belongs to anyone.”

No, we should not covet someone’s love. Remember, to covet is to resent the person, which is bad. Desiring the love you see in someone else is not bad, but if it leads to resentment, then it is a sin. Here’s some good news. For those who know about it, love has a unique characteristic that makes it covet-proof.

The Adversary did not know about this characteristic, or he forgot about it, or most likely, he just didn’t care, when he accused Job.  It sounds to me like Satan coveted Job’s status of being blameless in the eyes of God. In Job 1:9-11, he said to God: Of course Job is blameless… you bless Him so much, why wouldn’t he be? “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” That is what resentment looks and sounds like.

In this case, God’s perfect and infinite patience kind of irritates me! If I were God, when Satan wagged his finger in my face like that, I would have chained him up and thrown him into the pit right then and there!

The Adversary did not know about this characteristic, or he forgot about it, or most likely, he just didn’t care, when he accused Job.  It sounds to me like Satan coveted Job’s statusof being blameless in the eyes of God. In Job 1:9-11, he said to God: Of course Job is blameless… you bless Him so much, why wouldn’t he be? “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” That is what resentment looks and sounds like.

Good thing I am not God.  His plan is perfect:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Anyway, it isn’t only love that has this characteristic. I’ll venture that all the fruits of the spirit have this covet-proof aspect. The characteristic I am getting at here is that these things, especially love, all have God as their source and therefore are an infinite resource.  There can never be a shortage.  Those things are always available. They are always abundantly available to us regardless of what our neighbor has.

Here’s an analogy…  You’re driving in your car and all of a sudden, the engine sputters and dies and your car coasts to a stop.  You realize that your gas tank is empty! Ah-Ha. What is the problem? Is there a shortage of gas? Well, in your tank, yes!  But how many gas stations did you pass recently?  The real problem is that you didn’t stop to buy gas!  And, as the other cars drive by you, do you covet the gas in their tanks? Maybe you covet the drivers’ forethought and preparedness… Remember Jabez and his prayer? The solution is simple.

This is the confidence which we have before God, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. (1 John 5:14-15)

So, all you need to do is ask and you will receive. The Kingdom of Heaven is a rare pearl, a hidden treasure, and getting there is like a camel passing thorough an eye of a needle. Narrow is the gate, and few are chosen.  This sounds like quite the challenge. But never forget this: Love is an infinite resource that flows from God, available to all.  He does love us and wants us to love one another. That is how we show our love for Him, by keeping His commandments and by loving each other – our brethren, our neighbors, and our enemies.

 “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)       

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Humility

This is one of those words that, when I hear it, I tend to nod my head in understanding. I know what it is and how important it is for us to have it as a trait. At least I thought I did… but as with most things, there is always a depth to understanding that I have not yet reached.  We all know that we need to be humble.

For some strange reason, I want the directive to be humble to come like other “commands” that are simply implicit; “Do this because I said so,” and the reason for the command is left for us to figure out. Here’s an easy one… “Thou shalt not steal.” It is a simple command to understand and follow. What if I don’t steal? And why should I not steal? These questions are reasonably answered with a bit of logic and empathy. But, the directive, as I’ve called it, to be humble, is not a direct command from God. You won’t find in Exodus 20, “Thou shalt exhibitith humility;” I guess that is why I am calling it a directive. Humility is not really a command. It is just a good idea. Or is it?

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.  (Romans 12:3)

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, (1Peter 5:5-6)

These two scriptures are structured as commands, just not directly from God. They are also only a small selection of example passages that tell us to be humble, either implicitly or explicitly. The second one answers the question “What if I do humble myself?” – that is “God will exalt me at the proper time.” Now, that is something to look forward to! Scriptures confirm this again in Philippians 2 using Christ as the example who exhibited humility and was exalted by God.

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, (Philippians 2:8-9)

 What about the other question: “Why should I be humble?”  What good does it do, for me, or for others? I I hope that I start to answer that for you and me both in the remainder of this letter. Here is a scripture for us to think on with respect to that question – a seed that hopefully will grow into some understanding.

“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.  (Luke 6:31)

An attitude of humility will make this Command from God much easier to obey. Humility will make our whole submission to God much easier. I am thinking that a soft heart is indicative of humility.

So, what exactly is humility? I think there are various types of humility, all of which benefit us when employed. Here are some types that I think stand out and categorizing them will maybe help us recognize them (or the lack of them) in ourselves.

Personal or social humility: This is how we tend to construct an image of ourselves that others perceive. Surely, we all know someone who works at projecting an outward image of himself in order to impress others. I don’t need to look very far to find that person. Indeed, the mirror is undoubtedly the best place for me to search! There are at least 4 selfs, or identities, that we all have:

  • The true self.  This self is so private and personal that sometimes we forget: this is our heart, into which God sees and will judge.
  • The private self. This self is the one that we show only to those who are closest to us, like our spouse, closest friends, and maybe siblings.
  • The semi-private self is who we are around our friends and the people we trust
  • The public self is the image we project to everyone else.

Certainly, this delineation is only for illustrative purposes; actually, the different levels of true identity that we expose are a gradient – just as our levels of trust in others vary. I think the ultimate goal, our striving for perfect humility, is when we only ever have one self, or identity. Where can we find an example of perfection to model? Once again:

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)

Intellectual humility: Years of experience working, learning, or even merely living, give us an opportunity to feel like an expert of sorts and rid ourselves of humility.  It makes sense. With experience, I can anticipate an outcome of a situation and act accordingly. This earned confidence can easily lead me to focus on what I can bring to the situation. But, intellectual humility is me entering every situation with the mindset that there is something here for me to learn and grow from. The advice here is to keep your experience and wisdom close to you, but put it behind you. In front of you, and even closer, keep a curiosity.  Always know that you have more to learn and always be on the lookout for those things that can fill in the gaps.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ “Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:3)

Theological or Spiritual humility:  This is really an extension of intellectual humility but applies to understanding our walk with God and His ways. It is yet another thing we gain experience with over time. We use the experiences of studying scripture, meditating, considering thoughts of others, praying, etcetera, to make better decisions.  We serve ourselves well by entering into any conversation, study session, sermon, paper, article as if it were a journey into “what can I learn from this?” And we resist the urge to have pre-formed responses. Author and philosopher G.K. Chesterton, explained his theological journey this way: “It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.” I remember attending a Bar-Mitzva maybe 6 or 8 years before I believed there even was a God. The rabbi said in his message, “A wise man understands that he can learn something from anyone.”

I mentioned above that our great example for humility is Messiah Himself.  And I have cited Philippians 2 twice in this paper already, but here comes number three!  Read that chapter; the first half is directly relating examples of and encouragement for humility, but the rest has little gems of wisdom and examples.

But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. (Philippians 2:17)

Christ was obedient even to death. Paul was poured out. What about you? I read this somewhere and think it is worth keeping in mind: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2) 

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Generosity

Generosity is a word that literally means “of noble birth” from the Latin “generōsus.” Yes, this also has the same root as most of our English “gen” words, like genesis, generate, gender, genital, genus, genius… etc. Historically, the word was used to identify a person’s background or lineage – a generous person, by definition, came from a well-known, respected, powerful, and wealthy family. The label really had nothing to do with the person’s charity or compassion as it does today. In fact, stingy, generous people were likely commonplace.  It was in the late 1600’s when “nobility” was starting to be associated with the spiritual makeup of a person in addition to their physical lineage. So, noble behavior, and thus generosity, started to be something that was virtuous.

“But wait” I hear you saying, “the Bible is full of scriptures that encourage us to be generous.” Yes, and the Hebrew words translated as generous generally mean “noble.”

No longer will the fool be called noble, Or the rogue be spoken of as generous. (Isaiah 32:5)

This scripture is interesting because the word for “noble” here (nadiyb) means “liberal” or “generous” and the word for “generous” here (showa’) means “noble” or “free.” Wow, what an interesting, and maybe confusing rabbit trail to follow and get lost on.  And I have not even mentioned the Greek! I will let you continue that if you want.  My intention here is not a word study

The concept, however, of generosity is well established as a godly principle. In Acts 20, Paul claims that Jesus Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Please try to leave any political associations behind and consider the links between the words “noble,” “liberal,” and “generous.” Put these words into phrases and the similarity of their meanings are illustrated. Commit noble acts. Apply liberally. Generous amounts…

I recently listened to a talk given by Nick Hanauer, an entrepreneur and billionaire who made a lot of money investing in Amazon in the early days. He is unashamed of his wealth, and he lives the life of a typical billionaire with multiple mansions, yachts and private planes. But he has an interesting viewpoint on his wealth that may shed some light for us on God’s idea of wealth, abundance, and generosity.  He explained that, very generally, in this world, the wealthier an individual is, the less of a percentage of their wealth they give away. This seems counter intuitive in that a wealthy person has more than enough for what is needed and the excess could be given away without much burden. But, this is rarely done in real life. His argument is that if rich people were more generous with their money, they would ultimately gain more wealth. He did give one striking example that I will share with you. If restaurant owners paid their workers enough so that they could afford to eat at restaurants, wouldn’t that benefit the restaurant industry? He is claiming that if rich people were more generous, the poor would be better off and that would make the rich richer… I think this may touch on what is God’s ideal for our physical world – If we all follow His instructions in this life, the world would be great. Treat others how you want to be treated. I envision this ideal as “an upward spiral.”

“Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:29-31)

In Ecclesiastes 11, Solomon tells us to “cast our bread on the waters and it will return to us.” You can read this like a promise that applies to all mankind. In fact, I think this is where the world’s concept of karma comes from. Like Nick Hanauer, the billionaire, suggesting that generosity will serve to make you richer, we will only benefit more if we simply give what we have. This idea is so completely anti-intuitive, seemingly counterproductive to me. But it is truth. It is Truth substantiated by our Messiah, himself:

At the end of Luke 7, a generous woman dumps a whole jar of expensive ointment on the Messiah. I read one source that said the value of the nard in the jar was on the order of one year’s wages. I cannot imagine having that kind of generosity to spend a year’s salary on one gesture of reverence and love. If this gesture was her act of casting her bread on the water, it certainly came back to her – in the form of forgiveness of her sins. But we all get that, just for asking, right? She also received the praise of God and became an example to us all for the rest of time.  What’s that worth?

But let’s not forget, generous giving has nothing to do with getting anything in return. It is a gesture of love.

On the other end of the spectrum (in terms of worldly value) an example of great generosity comes to us in Mark 12 and Luke 31. That is the story of the widow generously donating all that she had to live on.  Again, what was her reward for this act of selflessness? Do we need assurance that we will be compensated for our donations? Should our donations be affected by what incentive we have or what reward we’ll get? Should we give with the hope of receiving?  Or, should we give to compensate for what we have already received? I think neither.  We give because we love.

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. (1 John 3:16)

I know a common thought that comes to mind when considering whether or not to give generously is our concern for how the gift will be used. For me, that question commonly sounds like, “if I give this beggar money, will he spend it on cigarettes and alcohol, or worse?” And that thought often prevents me from giving. It is logical, after all. We want our gift to provide the most benefit that it can, right? But, didn’t the folks at Simon’s house get chastised for criticizing the woman for “wasting” a year’s wages by pouring ointment on Christ? God wants us to give with abandon. On that impending judgment day, can you imagine God saying to you, ”Why did you give that money to the drunk guy on the street? You should have known that money would be wasted on booze!” – Or maybe this question from our Creator is more plausible, “Why did you withhold that money to the beggar on the street?” A very wise and respected man I knew often told folks who would criticize his generosity for these reasons, “I would rather be labeled gullible than stingy.” Wise words from a non-believer – especially if that label we are given is coming from our Judge!

“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ (Matthew 25:40)

I think that if we, the people who claim God’s promise of salvation through His Son, (a.k.a. “Christians”) practice extreme generosity and give with reckless abandon to any and all who had need, then the rest of the world would see with their eyes, and even experience firsthand the fruit of our works and thus the true love of God. This would be an amazingly effective tool to proselytize.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)        

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Influence

I used to secretly believe that I could have been a talented musician. I do still believe that, just not secretly; I’ve gone and told all of you! I can keep a beat and hold a tune and I enjoy most genres of music. I like music not just for the joy it brings me, but for the intrigue of how the notes are put together. I marvel at the fact that music can cause you to feel sadness or excitement or joy – without lyrics. How does that work? I believe I am not a musician today because I never had the influence when I was young. Certainly, if I had grown up in a house full of musicians, I would have received the influence to learn and practice and grow in that direction. A major contributor to who we are, what we do, and how we act are the influences we grew up with. These are not always people. We can be influenced by experiences, memories, dreams, health conditions, ideologies, diet, fantasies, living conditions, habits, finances, pollution, etc…

We are the way we are because of the past. But, today we need to “play the hand we were dealt.” We might gain some insight by examining our past, but there is no sense dwelling on things we cannot change. We will become our future person because of the present.  The influences that we accept today are forming who we will become. A good friend of mine would say, “Today is the day to practice who you want to become.

An influence is something that has the capacity to affect a change in behavior. We are not bound to be changed by anything other than our own choice. I can influence you through my example, but that does not guaranty that you will change. The change is up to you.

In Deuteronomy 13:6-9, Israel was warned against being influenced by their loved ones to follow other gods. If someone tried to suggest that they worship idols, the corrective action was severe:

“So you shall stone him to death because he has sought to seduce you from the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and will never again do such a wicked thing among you. (Deuteronomy 13:10-11)

Maybe no one ever was stoned to death for this, but we do know that “never again” didn’t really come to pass. We have at least one account of someone who did not follow this statute:

For when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. (1 Kings 11:4)

Should Solomon have stoned his wives to death? How does this brutal advice apply to me today? The choice to follow an influence is mine; I need to make the right choice. Here is a real-life example… At one time in my life, I worked in an office with some cool guys and I was grateful to be accepted into their group as an equal. There was nothing bad or evil about them, but they did use profanity in their everyday language. They were an influence on me and eventually, I chose to change my behavior and I adopted some verbal patterns that I won’t repeat here.  After a while, I was gracefully reminded that such speech is not godly, and I stopped. But, my point is, the people you choose to hang out with will naturally influence you.  Choosing not to implement bad influences is never a challenge if you prevent those influences in the first place.

He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Prov 13:20)

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

The plan is clear then, right? Surround yourself with good people and your choices will be easier; the influences on you will be more righteous. Yes, I am thinking of our Savior, of course.  He is the ultimate influence.  Clearly, we would do ourselves good to imitate Him.

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5)

The list of positive influences you can find in the Bible is a long one, for sure.  This is reason alone to spend time reading scripture. But, in real life, we sometimes get attracted by traits of others such as wit, looks, humor, wealth, charisma, passion, power, confidence, intelligence, etc., and we forget our need to exercise discernment of spirit in choosing our acquaintances.

Do not associate with a man given to anger; Or go with a hot-tempered man, Or you will learn his ways And find a snare for yourself. (Proverbs 22:24-25)

I think this proverb can be applied to any undesirable trait, not just anger. There is another man with an undesirable trait and a formidable influence that we need to be on the alert for – the old man.

knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; (Romans 6:6)

In this scripture, Paul is making a definitive assumption – that we, his readers, have already accomplished the goal successfully. That our old self is dead.  But, for me, that is not really true yet.  That guy is still able to influence me. Paul says in a different spot something that describes my situation a bit more accurately.

You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, (Ephesians 4:22) (NET)

“Being corrupted” is not in the past, but present. For this reason, we need to lay him aside consistently.

And let us not forget that we also are influences on others.  Our words and actions will be witnessed by the others in our lives and they will be choosing whether or not to be influenced by us. If we are not careful, we could be jeopardizing our own character, wishing we were drowning with a millstone around our neck.

…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! (Matthew 18:6-7)

We also need to be concerned with how we influence others, not just little ones who believe in Christ, but letting our light shine before all men. (Mat5:16)

…in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:7-8)

If we allow Christ to be our primary influence in life by getting to know Him and imitating Him in every way, we will become influencers in the world that will lead others to choose life.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)              

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Distraction

When a train (or a thought process) gets derailed, we can say that it was “dis-track-ted.” Ha! That’s a cute pun, but it isn’t really accurate. I checked. It sounds good, but “tract” is from the Latin “traher,” to pull or drag.  “Track” is from the Dutch “trekken,” to pull or drag… Wait a minute, they both mean the same thing but come from two completely different languages! This was really an interesting exercise for me to look for some inspiring word origin connection. I may have found one, but as I type this, I am clearly getting distracted from my intent. As we all know, a distraction is something that takes us away from what we were focused on. You can probably see where this is going.

And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”(Matthew 14:29-30)

I really like this example of Peter getting distracted and sinking.  It shows me the truth in this scripture:

And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

Peter was focused on Messiah’s teaching and was exhibiting faith with a Capital “F.” But then, as we humans do, he got distracted by the danger around him.  The PHYSICAL danger. He was reminded of the storm around him and lost that focus. I don’t think he lost his Faith, but his focus evaporated, and he started sinking. This can happen in many facets of life and with many degrees of consequence. I recently lost my focus while going to my shop to get a tool for a project I was working on and somehow, I ended up rewiring the light above the workbench. My original project took a lot longer than I wanted, but I got a better work light out of the deal.  This was not a devastating distraction. But we have all heard stories of people using their phone while driving, and never using the phone or driving again.

So, yes, we should all be focused and not get distracted; our life will be more productive and fulfilling… But, Peter was having a spiritual breakthrough in his faith by conquering the physical when the distraction caused him to sink. This, I believe is truly a devastating distraction, and one that we all risk succumbing to.

“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

These words of Messiah remind us that the important things are not what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. The important things are the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

“Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. (Mark 4:7)…”And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:18-19)

This is starting to sound like I am saying that we need to abandon all things physical and “spiritualize” our life. Well, in a sense, yes, I believe that is the ultimate goal. But we also need to prepare for that first. Peter did not step out of the boat until Messiah called him to do so. Surely Peter went through many physical preparations before that day. Physical preparations cannot be ignored, but God does promise to make those preparations effortless if we follow one simple instruction.

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Only one thing is necessary. That is, follow the simple instruction.  This is best summarized by the words of Messiah in Matthew (This scripture always reminds me of how God provided for Elijah in 1Kings17:6.):

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” Mat6:33

All these things will be added to you – not by some miracle so that you don’t need to work, or figure things out, or put forth effort to survive. But you will be blessed with the confidence and knowledge that the Father will cause everything to work out according to His plan and will. The instruction we need to follow is just one point. You cannot focus on two things; inevitably, the second thing will distract you.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6:24-25)

Our job is to focus on one thing – with diligence and endurance. I think Paul was talking about this specifically in 1Thes 5:17 “…pray without ceasing…”  This is what our focus will look like – not being on your knees all day long (neglecting the physical preparations,) but acknowledging God in all things, giving thanks and remembering our commitment to Him, submitting to our utter reliance on Him for everything… Etc.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

And let us remember that we are not in this alone. We are His children, one body… Here is an example of how our focus or distraction will affect not just ourselves. It would seem that the success of the Bride making herself ready depends on our focus. The Bride is not distracted but focused on Christ.

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)

Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and live according to the spirit and you will not get distracted.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)        

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Urgency

I really dislike spearmint gum. I did like it when I was very young, but that changed… When I was little, I would regularly have to go with my mom to the laundromat – one of the most boring places on earth.  She recognized this as well and through her empathy and love toward me, would try to lift my mood by allowing me to have a stick of gum to help pass the time.  I guess it helped, but after growing up a bit, the smell of spearmint, even the sight of the white Wrigley’s gum package, brings me back to times of extreme boredom. Waiting for the clothes to wash and then dry was excruciating for me.  Maybe now with “the internet in your pocket,” kids have it much easier than I did and can pass the time in laundromats watching YouTube.

Time is a funny thing. For the most part, it plods along, constant in its pace, never wavering in direction and seldom wavering in its speed. It actually did change direction once on the stairway of Ahaz (2Kings20) but I wonder if that was only for Hezekiah, or did everyone experience it? As for wavering in speed, I have personally been blessed by the Author of Time with an expansion of time that allowed for something to get done in an impossibly short period.  Also, I’m certain we have all experienced the compression of time, because we all know and accept the concept “time flies when you’re having fun.”

I have been on both sides of the following situation: In heavy traffic, one driver repeatedly changes lanes, frantically trying to get ahead while another calmly stays in their lane, riding along with the flow.  And both cars get to the same place at the same time.

And what about writing that proverbial term paper?  It isn’t due for another week – plenty of time. But then the early AM hours come while trying to finish it for class later that morning.

And then there is the strange phrase that we also are all familiar with, “Hurry up and wait.” I cannot think of a better example of this than when catching a flight.  Inevitably I leave home late, rush to the airport, nervously sweat and check my watch in line at security, and then sit and patiently wait for boarding, and then sit and patiently wait for takeoff. There are so many examples in life of how time affects us in irrational, unexpected ways.  I wonder if there is a parallel to this in our spiritual walk.

Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:31)

Those who wait will run and not get tired. But, if we are waiting, then why would we run?

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. (James 5:7-8)

The farmer also waits for the weather to be agreeable.  As soon as the spring soil is dry enough, he runs to prepare the fields and plant the seed – no time to waste before more rain comes, and every day added to the growing season equals more yield. “Make hay when the sun shines.” And hurry up, too, or else the late rains will spoil that hay!

Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, … But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land. (Psalms 37:7-9)

Don’t fret. Just wait for His promise… Are you kidding?!!? Have you looked around lately? There’s no time for waiting, this world is going down the tubes and fast! Really, this is true, but I need to point out that it always has been true. Corruption, injustice, discrimination, exploitation, oppression, forsaking God… nothing new there. Egyptians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Romans, Mongols, Nazis, ISIS… did I forget anyone? Ha, I would like to see an “exhaustive” list. I found this interesting and timeless quote:

‘We have fallen upon evil times, politics is corrupt, and the social fabric is fraying.’ (ancient Chaldean stone from ~3800BC)

I have heard many times that the state of the world is indicative of the urgency that we need to have toward our relationship with God.  I want to argue against that idea.  I think that the state of this world has always been, is now, and always will be, fallen, broken, and tragic. Our urgency must come from our understanding that we are in bondage to time.  And God is not. God is eternal. And we are not. So, as the Author of Time, when His bride has made herself ready, He will come and we will be out of time. The wise virgins in Matthew 25 made themselves ready, while the foolish virgins had no urgency and ran out of time. Messiah Himself warned us directly of running out of time.

“We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. (John 9:4)

And even before He came, the profit Isaiah delivered the same warning:

Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. (Isaiah 55:6)

Psalm 90 really addresses this for us. I encourage you to read it and study it with respect to this topic of urgency.  The author, Moses, realizes that Eternal God has granted us a finite amount of time and we need to use that time effectively.

So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom. (Psalms 90:12)

Moses is asking God here to instill in us a sense of urgency so that we might efficiently, without procrastination, prepare for our physical end.  This does not mean 401k, IRA, investment portfolio, life insurance, and bigger barns.

“Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. ‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”‘ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:18-21)

Present to God your heart of wisdom.  This is what He wants us to seek and find: a heart of wisdom and a relationship with Him. But, do it today, while you have peace on all sides, while it is still light.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)              

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Contact

I got a text from a good friend a little while ago saying, “I was thinking of you. I’d like to catch up. Do you have some time to talk at 12:15 today?” The message made me happy, but I was sad that I was not free at that time.  I was busy. After that, I thought about how my friend is so busy that he needs to schedule a call with a friend.  I didn’t consider or realize that I am in the same boat; I am taking the log out of my own eye…  A couple of days later, we did have a conversation and it lifted me up for the rest of the day.

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

I don’t believe that his call was explicitly meant to encourage me.  But, it did.  Just knowing that he had thought of me and took the time to schedule me into his busy life and call made me feel loved.  He built me up in that moment. I received a blessing.

And then I got a call from a brother with some truly exciting news that lifted me even higher. He lives with some daily trials that most of us do not have to deal with.  I am grateful that I do not have his struggles.  But he experienced a life changing event that showed me (and him) that God is loving him and blessing him and showing him the Way, the Truth and the Life!  His struggles will not likely evaporate, but he does now and forever more have a powerful, effective, and everlasting tool to combat the spiritual enemy. While it is difficult for me to empathize with him regarding his life struggle, I can share with him the joy of having God show up in such a vivid and empowering way. I had a similar experience in my life. A switch was flipped for him so that he now sees the love God has for him, the path God made for him, and the worth that he has. His great news was received by me with immense joy and relief. Once again, as the recipient of a contact, I received a blessing.

How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, They shout joyfully together; For they will see with their own eyes When the LORD restores Zion. (Isaiah 52:7-8)

When we take, make, schedule the time to connect with another member of the Body, they get a real benefit.  They are lifted up. They receive joy. Their confidence and self-worth are increased. The contact is an expression of love, and we all want to receive love. Afterall, we are made in His image, and that is all He wants… He wants His children to love Him. There is even a reward for those who choose to give. Yes, making the effort to contact another is like giving a cup of cool water to a thirsty child. 

“For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward. (Mark 9:41)

Taking the time, or making the time, to call on a friend is a worthy and lucrative investment. 

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. ‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me. (Matthew 25:34-40)

In this analogy spoken by Messiah, the water quenches the thirst, but that’s not all that happens in the transaction.  Messiah tells us that the giver receives a reward, inheritance of the Kingdom! There are also immediate, physical benefits to keeping contact with brethren. These benefits are things like knowing what to pray for, sharing joy, planning meetings, etc.  But there is another spiritual blessing that comes.

Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the LORD and who esteem His name. “They will be Mine,” says the LORD of hosts, “on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” (Malachi 3:16-17)

The children of God “spoke to one another” and that pleased God. Do you suppose that us speaking to one another is simply us “keeping in touch,” or sharing our news with each other? I do – I think that this scripture is encouraging us to share our lives with one another. We should be sharing things like what we are studying, what trials we are enduring, what our joys have been, how God has shown up in our lives, as well as the mundane things like family, health, worries, work, and weather…  This is how relationships grow and mature.  This is how the fabric and the being of Messiah’s bride makes herself ready.  This is how unity develops.

I am not sure if this “book of remembrance” is the same book that is mentioned in Exodus 32, Psalms 56, Daniel 7, Revelation 20, and others.  Surely God does not need to record things in a physical book, but whatever it looks like, I want to have my name in it!

Add iniquity to their iniquity, And may they not come into Your righteousness. May they be blotted out of the book of life And may they not be recorded with the righteous. But I am afflicted and in pain; May Your salvation, O God, set me securely on high. (Psalms 69:27-29)

“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. (Daniel 12:1)

All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Revelation 13:8)

So, please, do us all a favor.  Pick up the phone and call someone who would not expect it. I assure you that both of you will be blessed by it.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)                       

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

www.paraklesis.net

Balance

I wonder what you first think of when you hear the word “balance.”  I am guessing it depends on your context. A different image might come to mind if you are in chemistry class, or driving on the highway and your steering wheel is shaking, or you are paying bills, or maybe you are scrambling to meet a deadline at work and wishing you could be at your child’s baseball game. Have you ever done yoga?

Well, you probably can guess that, in this letter, I won’t be talking about weighing compounds in a lab or balancing your tires to smooth your ride. Or yoga.  But that struggle I have had at times, to abandon my work and be with my family… that is something that is relevant here. I will go out on a limb here and suggest that we all desire a balance in life.  I think it is interesting that the word balance comes from the Latin word “bilanx”: “bi” (two) and “lanx” (plates) yet in our modern desire for “life balance” we would need a lot more than two plates! Picture a circle of plates all connected by spokes. At the center where the spokes meet, the wheel of plates is resting on a pole.  Even with the plates empty, you can imagine this being hard to balance.  Now start loading on the things in life that need balance: God, family, work, fun, diet, exercise, sleep… Put too much of one thing and the whole thing crashes.

               Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. (Philippians 4:5) (KJV)

Wait, did I start that list with “God?” Does God have a place on the balance of life?  Can there be too much of Him? Is He capable of “tipping the scales” – and if so, wouldn’t that be a good thing?

So, that’s what we will explore here… I’ll put a barely adequate summary statement here, in case you need to bail out of reading this early. Your efforts to balance life is a waste of time, like striving after the wind. Don’t even try.

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

So, I asked a trick question, didn’t I? Did you catch it? Is God capable of tipping the scales and crashing our “multi-plate” balance? That depends… What do you mean by “God?”  Surely you and I both rushed to say, “No way! One can never have too much God!” This is true, but one could physically study the Bible too much, or focus on prophecy and current events too much, or stand on the street with a sign warning of the end of the world… too much.

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, (2 Peter 3:17)

This “unprincipled man” whose error “carries me away” causing my scale to crash, could very easily be me. But this is not a revelation. This is not big news or a surprise to us.  We have heard our whole life long “everything in moderation.”  I think it is repeated so often because it is not in our nature to self-moderate.  We are creatures of excess and increase. Isn’t that why our society measures success via economic growth? If it doesn’t grow, it isn’t good, regardless of how much abundance we have.

Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, That you not have it in excess and vomit it. (Proverbs 25:16)

The following scripture is a balance that God created for us. But, according to all human logic it should easily topple:

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (Genesis 1:31 thru 2:2-3)

Six days on one side and one day on the other, and they create a perfect balance. Awesome.

But, let’s go back to our life balance with many plates… God should be on that list. He had better be, or there will be no possibility of balance. Messiah gave us an example of this when the sisters, Mary and Martha had Him over for lunch one day… Martha complained that Mary was not pulling her weight with the serving duties and was instead sitting at the feet of our Savior, listening to His words.

But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

So, here is one key to balance: Choose the good part. God most certainly has a place on that wheel of plates. Yes, balance the time you have for study, prayer, meditation with the time you spend working, and loving your family, and having fun and exercising, etc… But, as I said above, one can never have too much God! That is, God Himself. He will not tip the balance, ever.  God is Love. God is Light. Those things are infinite and boundless.  They do not tip the balance, they only stabilize it. Pile on the Love and your life gets more balanced. Pile on the Light and your life gets more balanced.

The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1 John 4:8)

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)

I am thinking that God’s Love and Light are like outriggers for your canoe.  When the surf gets rough, a canoe is not the best vessel to be piloting.  Outriggers make that task manageable and balanced. Consider that verse I quoted above, 2Peter3:17. We are striving to not fall from our steadfastness – does that sound like building your house on the solid rock compared to a foundation of sand?

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. “And the rain fell, the floods came, the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Love defies gravity and provides stability in all things. This, of course, sounds metaphorical, but there is a real, tangible, physical application to this statement that I think we would do well to explore and employ every day in our lives.  When you exhibit love toward others in your walk, notice the peace that enters your conscience.  Notice how life feels balanced when you experience this peace.

Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)              

Peace to you and glory to God!

-Nate

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